From Afghanistan to Azerbaijan: 11 stops, conflicted characters, drugs, mysteries, and a love story that captured even my heart.
I have finished reading a book from every country starting with A, so it’s time for a little recap! I started this project with few concrete intentions or expectations of what would happen, except that I wanted to broaden my reading horizon in a systematic way.
What I have learnt so far: 1) it is not always easy to find a book from a specific country, and it becomes even harder when you try to find something you find really interesting; 2) I am very lucky in that I am able to read English translations as well as German translations (and that it is much more common in Germany to find books from all over); 3) I generally don’t like romance novels, and when I do, I don’t consider them romance novels.
Afghanistan: The Trauma of War
Title: Erde und Asche (Original title: Khâkestar-o-khâk) Author: Atiq Rahimi
In this very short but touching novella, an old man travels to his son, to tell him that everyone in their family died during a Russian attack.
Title: Hundehaut (OT: Lekura e qenit) Author: Fatos Kongoli
Krist Trapi is one of the losers of Albanian independence after the Soviet Union: he lost his job, his children have left the country, and in general, his outlooks are pretty bleak. The book looks back at his life, and his story revolves around his relationships with various women and politics.
Title: The Bridges of Constantine (OT: ذاكرة الجسد ) Author: Ahlam Mosteghanemi
The only book in this set that I didn’t finish – I just couldn’t get into this love story about a one-armed artist and the perfect woman. Not sure what else happened, as far as I made it through the book, it was mostly praise about this woman who seems conspicuously modeled on the author.
Title: Das Lächeln der Erde (OT: La Sonrisa de la Tierra) Author: Ramón Villeró
Nader emigrates from the African desert to France. The book, told in first-person, tries to be philosophical, but mostly just swoons over the great thoughts you have over breakfast like “nobody wants to live in a war zone”. I got the feeling that the author really wanted to pen down his world view of “we should all get along and be nice to each other” (which I totally agree with, by the way), but the fictionalization of this didn’t work for me.
Title: Eine allgemeine Theorie des Vergessens (OT: Teoria Geral do Esquecimento) Author: José Eduardo Agualusa
The more I think about this book, the more I like it – I’m still amazed at the skill with which Agualusa contrasts the hidden life of Ludo with the craziness of Angola during and after the Angolan revolution.
Matias lives in the poor parts of Buenos Aires, his surroundings are marked by poverty, drugs, and violence. His one wish, traveling to Spain to find his lost brother, leads him to difficult decisions.
Kim, living in Melbourne, is approached by a stranger who thinks she is the grown-up version of a child who disappeared from Kentucky two decades ago. What follows is mystery, torture, a fundamentalist cult, and many weird new family members. Unfortunately, my Australian pick took place mostly in the U.S. and the story was a bit over the top.
Definitely one of my favourite books of the bunch, and totally unexpected at that! It’s a family story that partly takes place in the here and now, on a roadtrip to Montenegro with the Prischinger sisters, their nephew, and dead uncle Willi, and partly in the past, telling about all the ups and downs of the family’s life.
A relationship between a muslim and a christian in the beginning of the 20th century, in a country torn between the western and the oriental world. Although this is labelled as a love story, it is so much more than this.
Even if I never make it all the way to Zimbabwe, I’m already super happy with the books I’ve discovered through making myself look beyond my immediate horizon. I read about life after the collapse of the Soviet Union, life before the Soviet Union, a magical story from Angola with superbly intertwined characters, and trying to escape the poverty of an Argentinian ghetto.
Now, it’s on to the B-countries; I have quite a few lined up already, but if you have hot tips for anything after Belize (see this list, for example), do let me know! Considering how long it took me to read through the 11 A-countries, I hope to be finished with all the B-countries by the end of the year – yes, it takes a long time, but this world is big and very segmented. First, I will dive into The Bahamas with Life On A Rock by KA Albury. My last Carribbean book was rather disappointing, so let’s hope this one’s more entertaining!